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Prison gang codes: Looking beyond the graffiti

Deciphering a coded gang message from Virginia

Officers working in a Virginia correctional facility found fifteen pages of an encoded document. One of the pages contained the picture below (Illustration #1).

Illustration #1:


Because the picture had notes indicating 166th Street, Bronx, NY, the material was forwarded to the New York City Police Department (NYPD). They sent it to me. As you look at the picture you may also see what appears to be “cross hair sights” and bullet holes.

As I examined page one of this document (Illustration #2), the most extraordinary thing happened. I saw part of the coded page become very clear and the words in the last paragraph were deciphered!

Illustration #2:


Seperating the gang languages
Let me explain that in the larger world of gangs, there are two major entities: FOLKS and PEOPLES and other large gangs fall in line with one of these two groups.

FOLKS gangs, like the Black Gangster Disciples (BGD) and Crips, follow FOLKS rules and use FOLKS symbols. The FOLKS slogan is “All Is One”; all of their “signs” are to the righ- i.e. right pants leg rolled up, hat tilted to the right. FOLKS use the number “6" as an identifier.

PEOPLES gangs, like the Latin Kings and the Bloods, follow PEOPLES rules and use PEOPLES symbols. The PEOPLES slogan is “All Is Well”; all of their “signs” are to the left - i.e. left pants leg rolled up, hat tilted to the left. PEOPLES use the number “5” as an identifier.

In the last paragraph of the code sample that we are studying (Illustration #3), you will notice the use of the number “6” and that the number “5” is upside down (showing disrespect), indicating that this is a FOLKS oriented gang document. Also notice the use of the pitchfork, and six pointed star (Star of David) are known identifiers for the Black Gangster Disciple gang.

Illustration #3:


So when I first looked at the bottom of page one, what I immediately noticed was that the first line of this paragraph (Illustration #4) was “All Is Not Well”

Illustration #4:


The second line contained “All’s Well” (Illustration #5 - Note the punctuation).

Illustration #5:


The fourth line contained “All Is Not Well” (Illustration #6).

Illustration #6:


And the fifth line contained “All Is One” (Illustration #7).

Illustration #7:


By now, you may have realized that this code uses more than one symbol to represent a letter. In fact some letters have three separate symbols!

Use found clues to unlock new clues
Using the nine letters that I had deciphered, I was able to determine that the remaining alphabet used the symbols shown below (Illustration #8)

Illustration #8:


Bring the pieces together
Thus, with the details combined the first page, and that all important last paragraph, read as follows (Illustration #9):

Illustration #9:


But what is it worth?
Some important intelligence can be retrieved from coded documents. The following (Illustrations #10 and #11) shows the “Set Kings” (Leadership) for this group which identifies itself as the Insane Gangster Disciples (IGD).

Illustration #10:


Illustration #11:


Find something to leverage against them
Coded documents also contain insights into the gang “belief system” (Illustration #12).

Illustration #12:


Notice the use of the word “Disciple” in the upper portion of this deciphered page and the word “Folks” in the lower left portion of this page:

When conducting searches of inmates or their property always be aware that the “pocket litter” you are thinking of throwing away might be useful intelligence if placed in the proper channels.


This article first appeared in American Jails magazine, May/June 2007 edition. It is reprinted here with the permission of the American Jail Association,

GS KLIVANS is a gang consultant and lecturer specializing in gang codes.